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CFP: 2012 Meeting

2nd Biennial Meeting of the BABEL Working Group

cruising in the ruins: the question of disciplinarity in the post/medieval university

20-22 September 2012

[all images from Beth Dow, Ruins]

CALL FOR PAPERS: PROPOSED SESSIONS*

*the sessions below have been provisionally approved for the 2012 meeting and are open for submissions

For those interested in submitting an individual proposal for any of the sessions below, please send your query and/or proposal directly to that session’s organizer(s) at the email address given below NO LATER THAN APRIL 13, 2012. For those interested in submitting random individual paper proposals, please do do by the same date, sending a 1-2-paragraph abstract, with full contact information, to: babel.conference@gmail.com.

1. What Is Critical Thinking?

Co-Organizers: Valerie Allen (John Jay College of Justice, CUNY) and Ruth Evans (Saint Louis University)

Proposals to: revans19@slu.edu

Everyone in educational institutions claims to exercise “critical thinking,” yet few agree on what it means. The use and abuse of the phrase creates an empty/full semantic category, powered by hot air yet still somehow meaningful: a kind of pedagogical and intellectual equivalent of the over-used term “excellent” that was the subject of Bill Readings’ critique of “the culture of excellence” promoted by US and UK universities in the 1990s and beyond. Before we trot out “critical thinking” on next semester’s syllabus as a skill we aim to practice ourselves and develop in our students, or before we claim that its true home is in our discipline rather than anyone else’s, let us use this session to think further — think “critically” — about its meanings. We aim to generate no answers, only a list of good questions, maybe some useful background knowledge and some partial insights. We are looking for four brief (10-minute) presentations that should be considered as teaching moments rather than as research reports. The session will be run as a workshop, so the panel will be expected to respond to each other’s presentations and the audience will be expected to contribute to the discussion.

2. Rising (Together) from the Ruins: Anarchism and Knowledge Production

Organizer: Christian Beck (University of Central Florida)

Proposals to: Christian.Beck@ucf.edu

With recent events occurring around the world in response to the International Debt Crisis, new thinking on the possibility, effectiveness, and sustainability of anarchistic models of governing are becoming more visible. As a political model, anarchism has a long history that parallels Marxism and capitalism itself.  More recently movements, academics, societies, local governments, political organizations, student groups, etc., are beginning to see how the emergence of an anarchistic model may produce a more meaningful and immanent type of knowledge (one that engages with the materials of the world and resists transcendence). While texts such as The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism and Gramsci is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements have been around for some time (1994 and 2005, respectively), the practice of anarchism is growing and being employed in movements such as Occupy Wall Street, the austerity and student protests occurring throughout Europe, and, in many ways, the Arab Spring—being careful here not to conflate revolution with anarchism, I am interested in the means of the revolution, which share in anarchist thought. This session will discuss the possibility, effectiveness, and implementation of anarchist thought within the university, research, and teaching.

This session will function as a collective (close to a roundtable, but with hopefully more engagement will all present in the room, so that we may hear from as many voices as possible): papers/thoughts will be shared before the conference amongst the participants and the session at the conference will be used to share and distribute the collected ideas from the “panelist” papers.  Each participant will be allotted 10 minutes to discuss her/his ideas, and will also provide a brief written synopsis to be included in an “anarchy guidebook” for all session participants, assembled by the organizer beforehand. The remainder of the time will be used to discuss discontinuities and overlaps, and to seek viable tactics (not strategy, a basic tenet for anarchism) for implementing an “anarchistic pedagogy” within the post/medieval university.  Broad and various approaches to this subject are invited, all in an effort to answer: What would an anarchistic place of knowledge production look and act like and how can we implement it?

3. Going Postal: Networks, Affect, and Retro-Technologies

Co-Organizers: Jen Boyle (Coastal Carolina University) and Eileen Joy (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville)

Proposals to: jboyle@coastal.edu

This session seeks presentations in the form of postcards, typed letters, cassette recordings, photographs, historical ‘annals,’ discographies, handwritten diary entries, Post-It notes, telegrams, filmstrips, and the like (real and/or fictive), that would examine (or raise), aesthetically-intellectually or fictively, the question of network affects, specifically in relation to (re)turns to outmoded communication technologies, such as the postcard and the mixtape — as seen, for example, in the hybrid media ventures of Tiny Mix Tapes, where semi-anonymous users request ‘cassette’ music mixes through invented themes such as ‘unrequited love, 1980-1988,’ ‘I made you fall in love with me but now I’m not sure what I want …,’ and ‘I feel disconnected from my friends, families, and even body: the world is an interesting place,’ and also PostSecret, a ‘community art project,’ where people anonymously mail in their somewhat shameful or embarrassing secrets on hand-made postcards.

In what ways do these supposedly outmoded forms of communication serve as important switching stations or branch offices for affective-communitarian ‘postal’ systems that participate in what Derrida would say is both a lack and an excess of address (The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond)? What is the historicity of various ‘postal systems’ (both real and imagined) and their relation to affect, as well as the ways in which certain intra-temporal envois (such as a ‘tiny mixtape’ or a ‘dead letter’) engage in what Derrida termed ‘postal maneuvering,’ where we see the entangled operations of ‘relays, delay, anticipation, destination, telecommunicating, network, the possibility, and therefore the fatal necessity of going astray’ (The Post Card, p. 66)? How to think more strategically about the temporal lease-dates of certain ‘postal systems,’ especially in an age when the acceleration of everything has become so profound (such that, whereas celluloid cinema, now in its twilight, had a good run of over 100 years, DVDs have come and will likely be gone in less than 20 years, and the printed book, somehow, hangs on after 500 years)? How might we better explore how specific, networked engagements with older communication technologies (pre-Internet and even pre-modern) enable valuable ‘virtual’ spaces for what the social theorist Scott Lash calls ‘aesthetic reflexivity,’ whereby it is possible to critique (through play) various power/knowledge structures, and to also allow oneself to be spontaneously traversed by others’ emotions, which then becomes a valuable form of queerly im/personal solidarity? What intellectual communities and sub- or extra-institutional spaces might be crafted through networks relying on (re)turns to outmoded technologies, such as the letter, the book, the coded message, and so on?

4. Impure Collaborations

Co-Organizers: Brantley Bryant (Sonoma State University) and Sakina Bryant (Sonoma State University)

Proposals to: brantley.bryant@sonoma.edu

This panel will explore collaborations that challenge the customary professional expectations of academic being-together. As we “cruise the ruins,” how can we, or do we, gather in innovative, revisionary, even transgressive collaborations? What kinds of shared work beckon beyond the professionalized and sanitized templates for “pure” academic collaboration? How can acknowledging new ways of working together resist the hierarchies and orderings that come both from traditional academia’s clerical origins and from contemporary academia’s increasingly business-corporate transformations? How can we best make visible the way that affinity, friendship, eros, identity, political engagement, and other impure connections offer ways of working outside of the constricting and normative hierarchies of academic life? This panel seeks contributions from couples, trios, or larger groups of collaborators who want to share experiences of collaboration that are somehow “impure”: because they cut across expected lines of hierarchy, discipline, perceived status; because they are charged with erotic and emotional power; because, for whatever reason, the collaboration doesn’t “make sense” in traditional academia. The kinds of collaborations we seek to explore might also be called “impure” for another reason: because their goals are something more than the production of published academic work. Indeed, what is “collaboration” anyway, the production-line for publication or some more flexible state of being and working together? Can collaboration frustrate the publishing telos? Celebrate process rather than product? And of course, contributors are also welcome to explore the impure aspects of collaborations that seem very pure on the outside.

Contributors to this panel are encouraged to write in experimental modes that explore and enact the promises and challenges of impure collaboration. Each “paper” must be given collaboratively by two or more people and could take the form of dialogue, reminiscence, chorus, disclosure, confession, call and response, or any other mode that allows for presentation of collaborative work, reflection on the possibilities of collaboration, or even an investigation of the history of earlier impure collaborations, medieval or contemporary.

5. Steal This Argument: Theft, Punking, and Roguish Behavior

Co-Organizers: Craig Dionne (Eastern Michigan University) and Steve Mentz (Saint John’s University)

Proposals to: mentzs@stjohns.edu

All our ideas come from somewhere else.  We may claim possession for a while, but they never start as ours, and never stay ours for long.  Once in a while we think certain ideas are our own, or that they materialize from some mysterious unknown place, or that they emerge from the fleeting-ness of the literary encounter.  But mostly — we may as well admit it — we steal them, hold on to them for a while, and then misrepresent them on their way out. This session reveals the not-so-scandalous truth of intellectual theft to think past simplistic ideas about intellectual property toward more dynamic, open, and uncomfortable misappropriations, misreadings, and other forms of exchange. We envision multiple presentations, structured in different ways.

#1 (Steve Mentz) will begin with marlin twine.  We’ll have a ball of it up at the podium or table, and also circulate small pieces of the sticky, tarred stuff throughout the audience.  Steve will start talking about marlin twine in early modern and modern sailing ships, about metis and “craft” in maritime culture, and also about the role of marline twine in, “Lost at Sea: The Ocean in the English Imagination, 1550 – 1750” (www.folger.edu/lostatsea) in summer 2010.  He’ll unroll the twine while talking.  Then some co-conspirator (Craig?) will interrupt by reading from “Making Rope Behave,” from Hervey Garnett Smith’s The Marlinspike Sailor (1960), following which Steve will admit to having stolen all his tar-smeared ideas from Smith’s nautical crew.

#2 (Craig Dionne) will discuss another form of academic thievery as equally crafty and no less “systemic” in the profession: the fine art of “punking.” Punking will be defined as misrepresenting someone else’s critical argument about a literary text in order to make room for one’s own.  It is a form of downplaying a colleague’s work to redirect attention to one’s own. How to theorize this form of rhetorical legerdemain?  A perverse mirroring of gift-giving? Halo stealing? Is it merely a benign practice, perhaps something done unconsciously, a way to squeeze into a crowded critical discussion, and thus interpreted by others as innocent trope of professionalism? A way to add shelf space to an already packed and competitive market of ideas? Or is there something more sinister (less cony-catching and more Dr. Moriarty) to its intent: a way to shove players out of a game and steal available cultural capital from the diminished field that constitutes academic narcissism and its various modes of self-promotion. What are the politics of punking? What are the disciplinary mechanisms at work? If a set of rhetorical techniques, what are the various modes of affect and erasure? Can one write a cony-catching expose of punks and their underworld craft? Craig will discuss how his work on rogues was punked, but also in the spirit of the panel he will also cop to punking (albeit unintentionally, he swears) another older scholars work. Can copping to punking be seen as a way to recoup lost capital?

We’re looking for more victims and criminals to expand this panel.

6. The (Inter)discipline of Pedagogy

Organizer: Mary Dockray-Miller (Lesley University)

Proposals to: mdockray@lesley.edu

This session/roundtable explores issues around the place, value, and practice of undergraduate pedagogy in the contemporary university. While university mission statements routinely include references to excellence in teaching and learning, public discourse around undergraduate education now focuses a sometimes vitriolic critique of liberal arts faculty and academic processes that value research over teaching (for example, see Derek Bok’s 2006 Our Underachieving Colleges or Craig Brandon’s 2010 The Five-Year Party). As a field of knowledge, medieval studies can seem increasingly quaint or irrelevant, given our culture’s current focus on professional training and post-baccalaureate employment.

During the spring of 2012, I would like to use Survey Monkey to query BABEL’s members about their teaching loads and course descriptions, and will use that data as part of an introduction to the other (4-5) speakers on the panel. Their 10-minute presentations will provide both theoretical and practical observations about the places and purposes of interdisciplinary medieval studies pedagogy in the contemporary undergraduate classroom, both actual and virtual, as well as upon what they might see as the valuable connections between research and teaching.

7. Synaesthetics: Sensory Integration Against Disciplines

Co-Organizers: Holly Dugan (George Washington University) and Lara Farina (West Virginia University)

Proposals to: Lara.Farina@mail.wvu.edu

Many philosophies refer to sight; few to hearing; fewer still place their trust in the tactile or olfactory. Abstraction divides up the sentient body, eliminates taste, smell, and touch, retains only sight and hearing, intuition and understanding. To abstract means to tear the body to pieces rather than to merely leave it behind: analysis.

–Michel Serres, The Five Senses

That the University’s task is the production of “abstraction” from sensory perception is readily apparent from both its division of the senses among the disciplines and its resistance to incorporating some sensory experiences altogether. While sight and sound find their disciplinary homes in Art History and Music, for example, taste, smell, and touch are generally relegated to the non-academic study of connoisseurship (such as perfumery, wine tasting, and other forms of luxury expertise). Yet the division of the senses into the traditional five, each with its proper field of use, has seldom gone unchallenged in the past or the present. Recent studies of sensation have argued in particular that it is time to heed the interaction of supposedly distinct senses and to think about new constellations of sensory experience. Whether they take the form of the neurologist’s “multimodal” sensory integrations or the alternative sense organs described by “disabled” writers and performers, these re-organized sensations suggest a need for (interdisciplinary?)(anti-disciplinary?) methods of understanding. Accordingly, we call for presentations that rewrite the connections between sensory paradigms and scholarly disciplines. Possible topics might include, the role of the senses in the division between “arts” and “sciences,” the possibility of non-visual disciplines, the place of aesthetics in sensory scholarship, the benefits or perils of “holism” or piecing the body back together in academe. We would like for this to be a roundtable panel with 5-6 presenters.

8. Digging in the Ruins: Medievalism and the Uncanny in the University

Co-Organizers: Laurie Finke (Kenyon College) and Martin Shichtman (Eastern Michigan University)

Proposals to: finkel@kenyon.edu

On February 27, 1949 a fire broke out in Kenyon College’s oldest landmark building, Old Kenyon, killing nine; there are reports that spirits walk in its ruins even after rebuilding, swelling the ranks of college ghosts. The college archive actually has a folder labeled “ghosts.” Doesn’t every university older than 100 years have similar tales? This roundtable panel proposes to explore the uncanny that haunts the site of the university, a site dedicated to reason, critique, and empiricism. How do we incorporate the mystical, the spectral, those things we cannot see but only perhaps glimpse in the corner of an eye? In Shakespearean Negotiations, Stephen Greenblatt writes, “I began with the desire to speak to the dead.”  How literally are we to take this rather macabre scholarly ambition? Did Greenblatt really hope to conjure the spirits of the past? Is that what literature is for? Philosophy? History? Religion? Do the sciences have their own Uncanny now that the mystic writing pad has become reality in the iPad? The uncanny, according to Nicholas Royle “is concerned with the strange, weird and mysterious, with a flickering sense (but not conviction) of something supernatural” (Uncanny 1).  In this session we want to wonder whether the medieval isn’t the uncanny that haunts the rationalism of the university, with medievalism serving as its avatar. In this session we would like to consider the various interventions scholarship makes into the realm of the uncanny, as well as the various interventions the uncanny makes into the realm of scholarship. We hope to explore such topics as wonder, telepathy, magic, automatic writing, the irrational, the ruin, superstition, awe, mystery, ghosts, déjà vu, cannibalism, religion, premature burial, the afterlife, phantom text.

9. The Historiographic Ghost

Organizer: Stephen Higa (Brown University)

Proposals to: stephen_higa@brown.edu

In 2004, a trunk full of Frida Kahlo’s clothing was discovered in a forgotten bathroom of her family home.  Amazingly, when the trunk was opened, the clothes still carried Kahlo’s fragrance:  cigarettes, perfume, the scent of her body.  “It’s a very particular smell,” said one of the textile conservators, “something that makes the clothing come alive.” This session invites historians (of any kind) to create pieces about the encounter with the historiographic ghost. In the course of our work, at what point do the ghosts of our subjects — the remnants, shadows, fragrances, muffled voices, sudden shifts in temperature or fleeting brushes against the skin — come back to haunt us?  How do we take into account the apparition, the revenant, and the necromantic in historical inquiry?  How do historians navigate the danger and taboo of flirting with the dead?  How does taboo affect history as discipline, structure, and institution? In engaging such questions, this session will gesture toward a history that claims the power to transgress, endanger, frighten, and transform.  The historian’s encounter with the ghost allows for a historiography that calls one of the most fundamental boundaries of the natural world into question:  that between the living and the dead.  When this boundary is rendered fluid, what unexpected portals emerge?  How might other disciplines step in to mitigate, regulate, or dilate the portals that history summons forth?

Submissions addressing any or all of these questions may take the form of the study, prose poem, memoir, phenomenology, reflection, or fragment, and should not exceed 10 minutes when read aloud. The session will consist of 4-5 individual readings.

10. Metalanguages, Disciplinarity, and the Foundation of the University

Organizer: Michael Johnson (University of Texas-Austin)

Proposals to: mjohnson@mail.utexas.edu

If [an adjective of the secondary imposition (i.e. a metalinguistic adjective)] is connected with  a substantive of primary imposition, for instance, “a categorical eye,” the meaning of this adjective vanishes in connection with such a substantive, just as a painting vanishes in the stream.

                                    –Petrus Helias, Summa super Priscianum (c. 1150)

Deconstructive criticism has given us good reasons to be suspicious of metalanguage, at least to the extent that guardians of disciplinary purity have relied on the cordon sanitaire of metalanguage to ground the autonomy and legitimacy of their disciplines. As Jonathan Culler notes, metalanguages make their users “feel securely outside and in control” even though “[they] can always be read as part of the work rather than a description of it,” thus subverting the exteriority on which their authority depends. Indeed, as Derrida writes, “there is no metalanguage, no locus of truth outside of the field […] the field [is] necessarily subject to multiplicity and heterogeneity.” Given the importance of metalanguage to contemporary discussions of disciplinarity, what can medieval discussions of metalanguage teach us about the question of the disciplines in the Middle Ages, whether in terms of epistemology, the material and intellectual origins of the university, or otherwise? How might medieval discussions of metalanguage illuminate our own discussions about disciplinarity? What does it mean that medieval thinkers, including notably John of Salisbury, became interested in policing the use of metalanguage in the years leading up to the foundation of the University of Paris? Or that this interest in metalanguage occurs right when the discipline of grammar, the mother of metalanguages, is in the process of becoming a newly autonomous discipline, with deeper truth claim [the promise of a universal grammar!], through the efforts of speculative grammarians like Petrus Helias? Furthermore, how do we read the fact that that speculative grammar’s disciplinary autonomy depended paradoxically on an infusion of metalanguage from Boethian logic, that is, from a competing discipline?

The language with which medieval writers framed discussions of metalanguage is itself a problem. Petrus Helias worried that inappropriate use of metalanguage might cause the meaning of specific terms to fade away “just as a painting vanishes in the stream,” while John of Salisbury, along similar lines, worried that “[words used in such a way] faint and lose their voice, as though they had been drained of their natural vigor.” Given the naturalistic framing of the question of metalanguage, how to explain the distinct pleasure with which writers such as Alan of Lille, or the troubadour author of “Pelh beutat nominativa” [“Her nominative beauty”], used grammatical terminology outside of its disciplinary bounds? What kind of queer poetics might be at work in such violations of metalinguistic containment? Even Petrus Helias and John of Salisbury seem to relish the collapse of metalanguage into language, in their enumerations of strangely poetic examples: “the patronymic horse,” “hypothetical shoes,” “a categorical eye,” “negative shoe-laces,” etc. This roundtable panel invites considerations of medieval metalanguage as it relates to disciplinary debates, the foundation of the European university, speculative grammar, summae, (queer) poetics, epistemology, (the erotics of) pedagogy, sexual politics, contemporary disciplinarity, and anything else anyone might think of.

11. Wild Fermentation: Disciplined Knowledge and Drink

Co-Organizers: Nathan Kelber (University of Maryland) and Rob Wakeman (University of Maryland)

Proposals to: rwakeman@umd.edu

There in wine is found the great generalization; all life is fermentation…. If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts — physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on — remember that nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let it give us one more final pleasure; drink it and forget it all!

 –Richard Feynman

In the shadows of every university, the Alehouse provides a common font for our very best and (very worst) nonhierarchical thinking. If we “re-sound our disciplinary wells,” we will find that the aquifer beneath is infused with alcohol. Our goal is the inebriation of disciplinary limits: how might beer and wine prickle, tingle, blur, buzz, and nauseate the academic conversation? How might the abrogation of our disciplinary inhibitions encourage originality and creativity, new conversations, and new forms of knowledge making. We propose to re-imagine the paper session as a drinking game, with rules for engaging, celebrating, and disciplining academic thought. Because discipline means more than mere memory and theory, but also praxis, we will be offering our own 14th-century style craft brew as a catalyst for discussion. Our aim is to bring post-conference conviviality into the conference session. We will examine the alehouse (like the after-conference) as a space that breaks down academic hierarchies and disciplinary limits. The result, we hope, will have the atmosphere of the anti-salon — a space for serious thinking in the Dionysian raw. What vigorous meditations, narrations, ramblings, and other forms of learned storytelling Harry Bailey’s game provokes. What generic investigations result from the experiences and expertises of a diverse band “hooked up,” in the Democritean sense, at the Tabard Inn. Shunning the droning of papers, our commedia dell’arte takes place within the performative social order of the alehouse. The relationships between panel and audience will be liquid, allowing sufficient room for risk, error, openness, and honesty.

This session seeks to bring together, then, all Ale-squires and ale-wives, tapsters and ostlers, butlers and chamblerlains, pot-companions, Lick-wimbles, Malt-wormes, and Vine-fretters: We invite examinations of alcohol and the alehouse in the medieval and postmedieval world: submissions on the theme of alcohol, or on reading, learning, and experiencing the world through, with, or without the ecstatic experience of drinking together. We are looking for 4-5 ten-minute papers. Participants must be willing to entertain outbursts, wassailing, academic revelry, and the threat of good-natured punishment.

12. Textual Fault-Lines

Co-Organizers: Anne Laskaya (University of Oregon) and Eve Salisbury (Western Michigan University)

Proposals to: laskaya@uoregon.edu

This session builds on the 2010 BABEL meeting sessions examining “fault-lines” (organized by Anna Klosowska and Nicola Masciandaro) by focusing on  textual studies, and seeks short insightful papers and/or creative performances/presentations. Consider “fault-lines” as errors in texts and editions that lead to productive meditation, productive disagreement; or explore the generally-unacknowledged erasures in texts and editions that — precisely because of their performance as an “unseen” or “unremarked” fault/error/revision — allows productive work and thought. Consider the “fault-line” as the chasm between manuscript and edition (or between editions). Consider “fault-line” as the gnarly space between a word or line and that editorial/textual note intended to inflect or define or comment on it, albeit pages, clicks, or screen-frames away from one another in spatial (and/or temporal) terms, or explore the fault-line between text and technology. Consider “fault-line” as the open space (abyss or dance floor) between textual studies and contemporary literary theory. Celebrate, regret, bemoan, refuse, interrogate, explore, love, rapelle the textual/editorial “fault.”

13. All in a Jurnal’s Work: A BABEL Wayzgoose

Co-Organizers: Editorial Team, continent. journal

Proposals to: Isaac Linder (isaac@continentcontinent.cc)

Disciplinarity is a concept indissociable from the modes of transcription and circumscription of knowledge that function as differentially constitutive acts in the establishment of so many terminal boundaries — delimitations of so many fields. Historically, academic journals (from the Anglo-French jurnals, ‘days’) have served as privileged sites for the ongoing articulation of the disciplinary résumé (be the journals aggregate overviews of the year’s research, playground sandboxes, or boxing rings.) For BABEL’s 2012 meet-up, the journal continent. will convene a session in the form of the annual printer’s feast known as the wayzgoose. 1-part soiree, 1-part transcontinental State of the Art, 1-part speculative interrogation.

The session will convene to broach questions of the discipline and materiality of (making) the philosophical idea, as much as the relationships between post/medieval disciplinarity and the event of scholarly publication as it has evolved throughout the ages. The wayzgoose was traditionally a crepuscular event, celebrating the end of a summer at the printshop as well as marking the beginning of a long, cold winter of printing by candlelight. So, not only, “what are the futures of these organs amidst the body of the (liquefying? ruinous? rigor mortis-sticken? or flourishing, kudzu-overgrown, ground zero?) University…?,” but “what are they composed of, what do they do, and what have they done?” Open to the presentation of work from publishers/producers of all ilks — from the samizdat pirate archivist to the empowered OJS (Open Journal Systems) coder — we’ll be holding onto the objects we know as ‘publications,’ to the disciplinarity to which they attest (and to all the diversity of forms publications can take) even as those very forms crash, glitch, burn, recombine, metastasize, melt, sharpen, cite, and re-cite in our very hands.

14. Will It Blend? Equipping the Humanities Lab

Co-Organizers: Allan Mitchell (University of Victoria) and Myra Seaman (College of Charleston)

Proposals to: seamanm@cofc.edu

This session will be a laboratory in which participants will test hypotheses about what, in addition to sexy metaphors, might be the product of humanist encounters with the hard sciences. The working question will be: can the humanities and the sciences interface, and if so, what might that look like? Such hypotheses might seem belated and unnecessary, given the growing evidence of humanists’ application of information technology in sites such as the digital humanities, literary forensics, and distant reading. How, then, might pure science enrich the humanities? The aim of the session will be to retool the laboratory such that light and not only heat will be generated from the collision of the sciences and the humanities. Can smashing the two together produce new ways of knowing? Can it affect the humanities’ content as well as its style? Approaches such as cognitive poetics might, for instance, be put under the microscope, or new discoveries might be made. The organizers anticipate that humanist experimenters will pursue a range of possibly competing hypotheses. The laboratory will be equipped with a humanist-scientist team to help assess the results.

15. Se7en Undeadly ScIeNceS: The Trivium and Quadrivium in the Forking Multiversity

Co-Organizers: Alex Mueller (University of Massachusetts, Boston) and Scott Maisano (University of Massachusetts, Boston)

Proposals to: alex.mueller@umb.edu

I thought of a labyrinth of labyrinths, of one sinuous spreading labyrinth that would encompass the past and the future and in some way involve the stars.

–Jorge Luis Borges, “The Garden of Forking Paths”

What do you do with a “university in ruins”?  Stick a fork in it.  Better yet, stick two forks—the trivium and quadrivium—in it.

In David Fincher’s nineties neo-noir film, Se7en, a serial killer is determined, à la Bill Readings, “not to let the question of disciplinarity disappear.” Rather than bemoaning a generalized (or interdisciplinary) “corruption” or “rottenness” at the heart of modern culture, he seeks to remind the world of the specificity medieval theologians once attributed to the seven deadly sins. Likewise, this panel calls attention to the particularity of the seven liberal arts — aka the seven liberal sciences — at the heart of medieval curricula and asks contributors to reimagine the relevance and resonance of these capacious categories vis-à-vis today’s “posthumanities” and tomorrow’s “multiversity.” How might the trivium and quadrivium reconstitute “the university in ruins” as a Borgesian “garden of forking paths”?  Such a labyrinthine vision of higher education is often the object of critique from those who insist that postsecondary schooling should be a career-driven, efficient, straight line (the shortest possible distance) to employment rather than a wandering series of “left” turns through the liberal arts that result in less tangible manifestations of personal, communal, civic, or environmental enrichment.  Furthermore, our understanding of the liberal arts have been immeasurably transformed by discourses of humanism that have privileged human cognition and experience over and above those of the non-human animal, the vibrant object, and belief in the metaphysical or transcendent.  Ultimately, this session aims to track the past, present, and future of the seven liberal arts, not only as they were defined by Martianus Capella and medieval schoolmasters, but also as they might have been defined and might yet be defined in postmedieval curricula and disciplinary fields.

We seek SEVEN panelists who accept the challenge of demonstrating and/or speculating on the abiding, undead significance of one of the SEVEN liberal arts (“Grammar,” “Rhetoric,” “Logic,” “Arithmetic,” “Geometry,” “Music,” and “Astronomy”) in papers of exactly SEVEN minutes. Inspired by the Nine Muses session at the 2010 BABEL conference, we imagine that each art/science could be channeled through an almost limitless number of possible modes, ranging from the traditional argument-driven paper to the wandering meditation to the political invective.

16/17. Gather Around This Micro-Ruin: The Staffordshire Hoard! [2 sessions]

Co-Organizers: Karen Overbey (Tufts University) and Maggie Williams (William Paterson University)

Proposals to: karen.overbey@tufts.edu

Discovered in 2009 near Litchfield, England, the Staffordshire Hoard is the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon metalwork yet found: over 3500 items of gold and silver, all probably martial in character and all of exceptional craftsmanship. The Hoard may have been battle treasure, stripped and buried for safe-keeping, and never recovered — though little is known of its origins or context. Taking as our trysting place this “object” which is at once singular and collective, we invite responses to the Staffordshire Hoard from medievalists, artists, scientists, performers, poets, curators, art/historians, educators, and philosophers. While archaeologists and Anglo-Saxonists are welcome, this unfolding depends on conversation across temporal and methodological divides: we seek all curious collaborators for two sessions, which will explore both the particularly inflected knowledge[s] of disciplinary approaches, and the possibilities for collective insight.

The first session, Hoarders, will present 5-8 short (10-minute) responses to the Staffordshire Hoard, each from the vantage of disciplinary or field practice. These could include historical, contextual, or aesthetic readings of the Hoard and/or its parts; reflections on disciplinary modes of knowledge (such as cataloguing, photography, exhibition, excavation) inspired by the Hoard and its histories; creative projects (such as short fiction, visual arts, performance, poetry) that respond to the Hoard. Hoarders operates in the perspectives of individual disciplines, and in modes of thinking that are integral to one field or another — methods, in other words, that we keep hold of, or at least claim to. By showing them in proximity to each other, we hope to experience their edges and overlaps.

In contrast, the second panel, Hordes, is a performance of collaborative and collective approaches: a migration across disciplinary and methodological borders. We envision presentations of 4-6 projects with partner(s) in different fields (e.g. medieval lit + medieval art, or medieval art + contemporary art) or in different disciplines (e.g. historian + artist, or art historian + scientist), with the goals of considering not only the results of these projects, but also the nature of such collaboration itself.


18. Future-Philology

Organizer: Daniel C. Remein (New York University)

Proposals: danremein@gmail.com

Philology is often mis-characterized as only interested in the past. Despite the importance of more general ‘philological-criticism’ à la Vico and more recently, Edward Said, philology remains perhaps most commonly characterized as a discipline or method to be brought to bear on the vast corpus of texts from human history, especially in relation to those languages slandered as ‘dead.’ The term ‘philological’ is often deployed to signify that a given project is ‘dated,’ that the project is hostile to presentist or future-oriented thought, and also tends to characterize philology as a bygone discipline which has faded from practice since the middle 20th-century (some voices even claim that without the likes of a Wrenn or a Tolkien such feats of strength are no longer possible). At worst, philology is mis-characterized as the positivism of a-political pedants.

Future-Philology (FP) distinguishes itself from Philology writ-large negatively as a corrective to this partial error and positively as a science fiction avant-garde from within the ranks of those most trained to read languages from the past. The philia (love) of philology is directed at Logos and not limited to incarnations of no-longer-spoken human language. Nor is it so certain that philology writ large, much less the specific and particular focus of FP, could be circumscribed as either discipline or methodology. This panel will herald the Society for Future Philology (SFP) with a set of remarks delineating the field of FP and modeling its practice around a set of central questions: is Philology in general or FP to be understood as discipline, as method, as theory, or as what else (field, orientation, etc)? How is SFP to care for the future? What is the future of language and who is attending to it and why? How do we read/love the logos of the future? What can FP do that nothing else can — how and why should be be distinguished as a part of the humanities? How did is emerge and what might emerge from it? Specific remarks for this roundtable session may concern the history of the future of philology, philological readings of a not-yet extant text or corpus, theory and practice of logophilic time-travel, and avant-garde or science fiction theories of language (especially including recent turns away from Saussurian linguistics to Piercian, Deleuzian, or New American Poetry models).

19. Parts, Wholes, and the New

Co-Organizers: Daniel C. Remein (New York University), Ada Smailbegovic (New York University), and Rachael Wilson (New York University)

Sponsor: Organism for Poetic Research (OPR)

Proposals to: danremein@gmail.com

A number of recent methodologies have been emerging across a range or disciplines and fields in an attempt to think anew the problem of parts, wholes, and the new, and to re-frame this question as of pressing importance to both the humanities and the sciences. Briefly put, this question asks how things can seem at one point discrete and radically particular, and yet also seem either subsumed as mere parts of a larger phenomena or to give way to an entirely new phenomena which does not seem reducible to its previously extant constituent parts (in this way the question concerns at once the synchronic/static relations of parts/wholes as well as diachronic/emergent relations of components/new-thing). Elizabeth Grosz, has led a particularly Deleuzian approach via Evolutionary theory. Systems theorists have considered how a system can produce something anew which is irreducible to the parts which precede it diachronically or which make it up at any synchronic moment. Avant-Garde poetics in English have engaged Whiteheadian Process philosophy, Pierican-poetics, et alia. Speculative Realism (SR) has borrowed from Whitehead, Husserlian Phenomenology, Heideggerian ‘Ontology’ as well as mathematical set-theory in order to return the question of the new to the scene of the physical universe. Between the CERN accelerator, the Hubble telescope, and String Theory, experimental, observational, and theoretical physics all remain poised to significantly reframe the question of emergence on both micro and macro scales.

Given the recent reframing of this question as essential for contemporary philosophers, critics, poets, and scientists, this roundtable panel will measure the capacities and limits of these and other discrete disciplinary approaches to the question of parts, wholes, and the new. While it is tempting to proceed via an interdisciplinary patchwork, we would like to explore what a reliance on disciplinary differences might bring to this set of questions. What can different disciplines do in relation to this problem that others cannot? What irreducible disciplinary or methodological differences does this problem bring into relief and why? To what extent are different disciplines or methodologies capable or desirous of describing the relations of parts, wholes, and the new, as opposed to producing, multiplying, or inflecting such relations (and to what extent could this reframe the question of disciplinarity in terms of an odd realignment of parts of the sciences and of the humanities: observational science/descriptive criticism vs. experimental science/poetics)? To what extent can a discipline hope or want to take such an active position in intervening or producing such relations, and to what extent can the problem only be studied in terms of  physical laws or determined totalities?  Exactly how are these newer theories (such as Grosz following Deleuze + Darwin or Levi Bryant following Deleuze) functionally different than older Modernist theories (like Husserl’s theory of parts and wholes or of manifolds)?

20. Getting Medieval on Medieval Studies

Organizer: Elly Truitt (Bryn Mawr College)

Proposals to: etruitt@brynmawr.edu

This roundtable panel will explore strategies for teaching topics in Medieval Studies by using elements of medievalism in popular culture and current events. Put more bluntly and in less boring terms, how can we harness existing student interest in the Potterverse, Westeros, the World of Warcraft, “The Knights of Badassdom,” “Your Highness,” and LARPing to teach them about the Middle Ages and the way that the medieval period is portrayed in contemporary culture.  What is the lure of the medieval period? Moreover, we will debate the reasons why Medieval Studies is often still seen as marginal or arcane within the academy at the same time that MMORPG have tens of millions of unique users, Renaissance Faires are held every weekend throughout the country, and “Game of Thrones” is the hottest new show on cable tv. This panel will present 5-7 short presentations (3-5 minutes) by panelists from various disciplines (history, art history, religion, history of science, film studies, literature, etc.) sharing their approaches, tricks, tips, qualms, and queries about pedagogy that yokes medievalism and Medieval Studies before opening up the discussion to the larger group.

2 Comments
  1. Lessee… I’m guessing that between teaching Disney, playing WoW, Re-creating a methods course and finding out that the expectations of a medievalist are often different to those of people who teach US history, creating a linked course with another medievalist (except I’m teaching World History, and he’s teaching freshman comp!), and working on writing in the discipline, I could (for the first time!) probably find something useful to say at a BABEL conference 🙂

  2. And that’s just exactly what we want to hear, ADM!

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